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Powell: Fed to Raise Interest Rates as Inflation is 'Too High', Cost of Living Set to Soar Higher

Powell Warns Fed May Continue to Raise Interest Rates as Inflation Is 'Too High'

"As is often the case, we are navigating by the stars under cloudy skies," says Fed Chair

By: Andrew Moran

August 25, 2023: Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell raised the possibility of additional monetary policy conditions in the central bank's fight against inflation, warning that prices remain too high.

Speaking at the annual Jackson Hole economic symposium on Aug. 25, Mr. Powell reiterated that the institution is prepared to keep raising interest rates if appropriate. Even without any extra rate hikes, the Fed plans to hold the benchmark fed funds rate at a restrictive level until policymakers are confident that inflation is trending downward to the Fed's 2 percent target rate.

But while inflation is coming down from its peak in June 2022, Mr. Powell believes it is too early to declare victory.

Related Article: Federal Reserve Policymakers Consider Additional Interest-Rate Hikes "The lower monthly readings for core inflation in June and July were welcome, but two months of good data are only the beginning of what it will take to build confidence that inflation is moving down sustainably toward our goal," Mr. Powell said in his prepared remarks.

The Fed Chair repeated what the July Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) policy minutes stated: Officials are aware of the risk of overtightening monetary policy.

“Doing too little could allow above-target inflation to become entrenched and ultimately require monetary policy to wring more persistent inflation from the economy at a high cost to employment. Doing too much could also do unnecessary harm to the economy," he stated.

“As is often the case, we are navigating by the stars under cloudy skies," he said.

The Fed will need to "proceed carefully" when assessing incoming economic data and the evolving outlook and risks, Mr. Powell added.

It will be a delicate balance for the rate-setting Committee because there are signs of slowing economic conditions and renewed price pressures.

According to the Cleveland Fed Bank's Inflation Nowcasting model estimate, the annual inflation rate is expected to rise for the second consecutive month to 3.8 percent. The core consumer price index (CPI), which omits the volatile energy and food sectors, is anticipated to ease to 4.5 percent.

Since the Fed launched its quantitative tightening cycle in March 2022, the FOMC has pulled the trigger on 11 rate hikes totaling 500 basis points.

2 Percent Means 2 Percent

In recent weeks, there have been discussions about whether the Federal Reserve should consider increasing its 2 percent inflation target, allowing for policy flexibility and preventing the institution from raising interest rates and threatening the national economy.

The Fed has no intention of raising its inflation target from its 2 percent objective, according to the Fed chief.

"Two percent is and will remain our inflation target,” Mr. Powell said.

But to achieve this goal, it will require below-trend growth and softer labor markets, he stated.

“It is the Fed’s job to bring inflation down to our 2% goal, and we will do so," he added.

What Others Are Saying

Heading into Mr. Powell's speech, other U.S. central bank officials have weighed in on the monetary policy debate.

Philadelphia Fed Bank President Patrick Harker thinks that the institution has "probably done enough" to combat rampant inflation, telling CNBC from Jackson Hole that he would prefer to "keep rates high for a while."

“I am in the camp of, let the restrictive stance work for a while. That should bring inflation down,” Mr. Harker told the business news network.

He has presented this position before, saying at a recent event that the Fed should leave the policy rate where it is and determine how much 22-year-high interest rates are traveling throughout the economy.

Minneapolis Fed Bank President Neel Kashkari is not willing to declare mission accomplished on the inflation front just yet.

Speaking at the APi Group's Global Controllers Conference earlier this month, Mr. Kashkari acknowledged that there could still be additional tightening ahead because inflation is "still too high."

"The question on my mind is, have we done enough to actually get inflation all the way back down to our 2 percent target? Or do we have to do more?" he said. “Are we done raising rates? I’m not ready to say that we’re done."

Writing in a Washington Post op-ed on Aug. 24, former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers asserts that "it might well be a long time before it is prudent to cut rates."

"What we know now is that inflation is still too high, labor markets are tighter than they have been since World War II, fiscal deficits are at near-record peacetime levels and stock prices are high. This suggests a need to recognize that it might well prove necessary to hit the brakes some more," he wrote.

According to the CME FedWatch Tool, investors expect the Fed to leave rates alone at the current target rate of 5.25 percent and 5.5 percent. The futures market is split between a rate pause or a rate hike at the November FOMC meeting. Traders are not pricing in a rate cut until June 2024.

The next two-day FOMC meeting will take place on Sept. 19 and 20.

Market Reaction

There was little reaction in the U.S. financial markets, with the leading benchmark indexes flat in early trading.

The U.S. Treasury market was mostly up at the end of the trading week, with the benchmark 10-year yield adding one basis point to 4.245 percent. The 2-year yield picked up 5 basis points to 5.069 percent.

The subdued performance in the financial markets was likely driven by the lack of new information in Mr. Powell's remarks, says Greg McBride, the chief financial analyst at Bankrate.

“There were no revelations from Fed Chair Jerome Powell’s widely anticipated speech in Jackson Hole, just a reaffirming that the Fed is squarely focused on getting inflation down to 2 percent and they intend to see the job through," he said in a note.

“Powell didn’t commit to whether the Fed would raise rates or not, but two things jump out from his comments: they will not move the goal posts off the 2 percent inflation objective and interest rates aren’t going down any time soon."

Andrew Moran has been writing about business, economics, and finance for more than a decade. He is the author of "The War on Cash."

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